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The 1970s and the Minnesota Twins draft: a decade of futility

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If you wonder how a franchise can fail to compete in the long-term, failure to turn an entire decade's worth of first-round picks into even semi-decent players is one of the bigger answers.

The Twins selected Rick Sofield, now a coach for the Pirates, #13 overall in the 1975 draft.
The Twins selected Rick Sofield, now a coach for the Pirates, #13 overall in the 1975 draft.
Rob Carr/Getty Images

As September turned to October in 1970, the Minnesota Twins had just won their second American League West title in a row by compiling a 98-64 record. It was and continues to be the second-highest single-season win total in franchise history. But this team would be swept out of the ALCS, just as they had been the year prior, by a juggernaut from Baltimore. Minnesota wouldn't return to the post-season until 1987.

Why the Twins stalled throughout the 1970s is a question that has a number of answers. One of them, a big one, is the failure of the organization to draft a single first-rounder who could contribute down the line.

1970
Bob Gorinski |  SS  |  #22 overall
Career fWAR: -1.0

A prep selection from Pennsylvania, Gorinski didn't hit like a shortstop. The Twins picked him as a shortstop even though he'd never play that position, and his prodigious power in the minor leagues was the one thing that really made him an intriguing prospect. In 1971, his age-19 season, he clobbered 30 home runs. He hit 23 the next year. Two years later, in his second spin through Double-A, he hit 23 again. He hit 20 homers at Triple-A in 1975, and hit 28 more in 1976.

The problem was that hitting home runs was all Gorinski could do. He struck out in 24.4% of his plate appearances in the minor leagues, and hit a combined .250/.296/.429. But he still broke camp with the Twins in 1977, his age-25 season, backing up Larry Hisle and Dan Ford in the corners.

After a year of irregular playing time, Gorinski had hit just three home runs in 54 games and 126 plate appearances. He'd hit just .195/.226/.322, and that was the entirety of his Major League career.

1971
Dale Soderholm |  SS  |  #21 overall
Career fWAR: n/a

Unlike Gorinski, Soderholm was a true shortstop and played the position for 677 of his 678-game minor league career. He even snuck in 19 games in '71, and hit .271/.386/.417 as an 18-year old. It was a promising start.

With echoes of Gorinski, Soderholm smacked 20 home runs in 1972 for Wisconsin Rapids, all while hitting below the Mendoza line and striking out in a whopping 36% of his plate appearances. He'd reign it back in future seasons, seemingly exchanging power for contact, but it never helped him develop and he finished his career in 1978 in Toledo - Minnesota's Triple-A affiliate. He'd play for the Inter-American League in 1979, still just 26 years old, but that's where his story ends.

1972
Dick Ruthven |  RHP  |  #8 overall
Career fWAR: 24.9

Ruthven pitched in the Major Leagues from 1973 through 1985, and even had a few innings as a reliever in '86. But none of them were with the Twins, since he didn't sign and re-entered the draft. The Phillies took him with the number one overall pick in 1973. Perhaps it was more Ruthven than the Twins, since he also refused to sign with the Orioles when he was taken in the 20th round of the 1969 draft.

It was a terrible waste of an opportunity. Nobody could have known it at the time, but it was only the beginning of a decade-long trend for the organization.

1973
Eddie Bane |  LHP  |  #11 overall
Career fWAR: 1.0

Bane has an advantage over any of the decade's previous picks, as he not only signed with Minnesota but logged appearances in multiple seasons. A collegiate selection, he actually made his Major League debut that same year on the 4th of July. He gave the Twins seven innings of one-run baseball against the Royals. He struck out Lou Piniella.

While he would return for four starts in 1975 and 15 starts in 1976, Bane's Major League career was a short one. He logged 168 innings, all of them with the Twins, with a 4.66 ERA.

His biggest claim to fame isn't as a first-round draft pick, however. Bane is the scout who is responsible for a string of good picks by the Angels: Patrick Corbin, Tyler Skaggs, Johnny Hellweg, Jean Segura, Kendrys Morales and, the coup d'etat, Mike Trout. Presently he's the special assistant to the general manager in Boston.

1974
Ted Shipley |  SS  |  #14 overall
Career fWAR: n/a

After being the starting shortstop for a Vanderbilt squad that was good enough to earn back-to-back SEC Championships, the Twins snagged him as the fourth of seven shortstops taken in the first round. He was one of two to not reach the Major Leagues.

Shipley had been a decent hitter in college with very good speed, setting a record for stolen bases in his final season at Vanderbilt. But he never exhibited that level of talent once he broke the ranks of professional baseball, and lasted just three seasons. After 284 minor league games he was done, hitting .238/.322/.309 with 35 stolen bases in 52 attempts.

1975
Rick Sofield |  SS  |  #13 overall
Career fWAR: -0.4

Another year, another shortstop. Sofield played shortstop for Elizabethton in '75, but afterward would bounce between the outfield and third base. In 1977 he had what looked like a breakthrough season in Single-A, hitting .325/.419/.612 with 27 home runs at age 20.But his minor league career continued on an unimpressive course thereafter.

Sofield debuted for the Twins in 1979, breaking camp with the club in April but after a slow start was sent back to Double and Triple-A from mid-May until a September recall. He hit .400/.475/.514 that month, which he parlayed into the starting center field job on Opening Day in 1980. But he struggled, and slumped worse in 1981, and that was the end of his Major League career. In 678 career plate appearances, Sofield hit .243/.293/.342.

But Sofield's story, like Bane's, doesn't end there. He's a coach for the Pirates, having met Clint Hurdle in 1975 when the two were drafted four slots apart.

1976
Jamie Allen |  3B  |  #10 overall
Career fWAR: -0.1 fWAR

Once again the Twins wasted a high draft pick on a player who didn't sign. Minnesota picked him out of Davis High School in Yakima, Washington, and then he chose to go to college. Can't blame a guy for that - and considering how things turned out it looks like a really smart decision. But it was still another swing and miss by the Twins.

For what it's worth, Allen was taken in the second round of the 1979 draft by the Seattle Mariners. He made his Major League debut on May 1, 1983, and appeared in his last game on September 4, 1983. He exhibited a nice eye, coaxing out 33 walks versus 52 strikeouts in 313 plate appearances.

1977
Paul Croft |  CF  |  #15 overall
Career fWAR: n/a

Croft signed with the Twins and split his time between Rookie League Elizabethton and Single-A Wisconsin Rapids, hitting .198/.326/.273. His speed was on display as he stole ten bases in ten attempts, but the skills were slow in coming together. In 1979 and 1980, at 19 and 20 years old, he hit .284/.408/.460 and .319/.436/.478 but Minnesota kept him in Single-A. And that was all she wrote for Croft's time in the organization.

He split time between Baltimore and Atlanta in 1982 and 1983, but he never reached the Major Leagues. He finished with a very respectable .262/.376/.450 minor league line in 2,265 plate appearances, but he was never seen as a secure enough prospect to get much time above Single-A.

1978
Lenny Faedo |  SS  |  #16 overall
Career fWAR: -0.7 fWAR

Faedo was Minnesota's fifth shortstop in nine years, which is an overwhelming majority for a single position as the team's first pick no matter how you look at it. But the club hadn't been able to secure a good one yet, even if it didn't really look like they'd need one for a while as Roy Smalley was still just 25 years old and doing perfectly fine.

In spite of his status as a prep selection, Minnesota rushed Faedo. In 1979 he began the year in Double-A, nearly four years younger than the average player at that time. He did alright, hitting .271/.327/.354, and in spite of having his worst Minor League season to date in 1980 he still ended up making his Twins debut. He snuck into five games for a cup of coffee at the end of the year.

From 1981 through 1984 Faedo appeared in 169 games for the Twins. He was normally bouncing back and forth between Minnesota and the minors, but in '82 he spent all season with the big league team - appearing in 90 games. It only served to show that he wasn't going to be a fit.

It says something that Faedo, although he didn't get as many professional plate appearances as Sofield, did see parts of five seasons as a Major Leaguer. And that's more than anyone else on this list, regardless of how much of a bust he would be considered.

1979
Kevin Brandt |  OF  |  #11 overall
Career fWAR: n/a

Brandt, in spite of actually signing with Minnesota and playing games for a Minnesota minor league affiliate, may be the perfect culmination of a decade of wasted first round draft picks. The Twins signed him, he hit .161/.272/.204 in 45 games in his debut, and after just two games in his second season he was released. A prep slugger he may have been, but literally nothing translated into professional ball here.

*  *  *

Ten first-round picks, accumulating a group total of -1.2 fWAR - since we can hardly count Ruthven's contributions for the Phillies, Braves, or Cubs. That's not even the most honest assessment, since four of the ten players didn't even make the Major Leagues. You can't count value if it doesn't exist.

None of this was meant to be mean or to celebrate what must have been a decade of miserable futility. It's just a look back at draft history, albeit a painful one, simply because it's not something we've heard much about.

We'll pick up our draft coverage later this weekend, when we start to look at what the experts think the Twins might do.